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Four Months of Wearing a Balance Orthotic Improves Measures of Balance and Mobility Among a Cohort of Community-Living Older Adults

Noah, Sean BA1; Gibson-Horn, Cynthia PT, BS2; Vincenzo, Jennifer L. PT, PhD3

Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy: October/December 2019 - Volume 42 - Issue 4 - p 216–223
doi: 10.1519/JPT.0000000000000174
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Background and Purpose: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were 29 million falls and 7 million injuries in 2014 in the United States. Falls, decreased balance, and mobility disability are common in older adults and often result in loss of independence. Finding interventions to address these issues is important, as this age group is growing exponentially. Prior studies indicate balance and mobility can be improved by the balance-based torso-weighting (BBTW) assessment implemented through wear of a balance orthotic (BO). This study sought to determine the impact of wearing a BO on balance, mobility, and fall risk over time.

Methods: This quasiexperimental, 1-group pre-/posttest study investigated the effect of 4 months of daily wear (4 hours per day) of a BO on mobility, balance, and falls efficacy in 30 older adults living in a retirement community with limited mobility defined by a Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) score range between 4 and 9 out of a maximum of 12 points. Pre- and posttreatment tests included the Timed Up and Go (TUG), Functional Gait Assessment (FGA), Falls Efficacy Scale (FES), and SPPB. Participants received the BBTW assessment, consisting of individualized assessment of 3-dimensional balance loss, and treatment with a strategically weighted and fitted BO to control balance loss. The BO was worn twice a day for 2 hours (4 hours per day) for 4 months. Participants continued regular activity and no other interventions were provided. All posttests were conducted after 4 months and at least 8 hours after removal of the BO. Subitems from the SPPB (gait speed [GS], 5-time sit-to-stand [FTSST], and tandem stance time [TST]) were analyzed as separate outcome measures. Data were analyzed with paired t tests with a Bonferroni correction (SPPB, GS, FGA, and FES) when statistical assumptions were met. Data that did not meet the statistical assumptions of the paired t test (FTSST, TST, and TUG) were analyzed with Wilcoxon signed rank tests with a Bonferroni correction.

Results and Discussion: Twenty-four participants, average age 87 (5.7) years, completed the study. Paired t tests indicated that mean group scores on the SPPB, GS, and FGA significantly improved from pre- to posttests. The SPPB improved by 1.3 points (P = .001). GS improved by 0.09 m/s (P = .004) and both mean values improved beyond fall risk cutoffs. The FGA also improved by 2.6 points (P = .001). There were no significant changes in FES scores (P = .110). Wilcoxon signed rank tests indicated median group scores of the FTSST significantly improved from pre- to posttests by 7.4 seconds (P = .002) and median TUG times improved by 3.5 seconds (P = .004). There were no changes in TST (P = .117).

Conclusions: This study suggests that wearing a BO for 4 hours per day for 4 months results in improvements in functional assessments related to fall risk (SPPB, GS, FGA, TUG, and FTSST) in a group of older adult participants with limited mobility.

1University of California, Davis.

2Motion Therapeutics, Oakland, Oxnard, California.

3Department of Physical Therapy, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Fayetteville.

Address correspondence to: Cynthia Gibson-Horn, PT, BS, Motion Therapeutics, 1830 Eastman Ave, Oxnard, CA 93030 (Cindy@motiontherapeutics.com).

This research was presented as a workshop at the annual American Society on Aging 2016 Aging in America Conference. The workshop was published in the conference announcement.

The authors received partial funding for this investigation from Country Meadows Retirement Facilities, Inc, Hershey, Pennsylvania, for the BalanceWear orthotics used in the study.

One author, C.G.H., has part ownership of Motion Therapeutics, which manufactures and sells BalanceWear garments.

One author, S.N., consults for Motion Therapeutics.

No other conflicts of interest are present in this study.

Robert Wellmon was the Decision Editor.

© 2019 Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy, APTA
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